More Easter Holiday Hell – Potluck Greed

by admin on April 27, 2011

I hosted an Easter potluck for my family yesterday. And never will again. I am the youngest of five grown siblings. My parents usually host family parties since they have a large yard, swimming pool, and my moms loves to cook.  My dad has been in poor health lately though and has been having issues with one of my sisters. This sister has six adult children and four grandchildren, and is notorious for showing up empty handed to all or family gatherings. My parents said they are done hosting for a while so I offered to host an Easter potluck. Silly me.

I provided the main dishes: a very nice sized ham, steaks, and chicken. The aforementioned sister and her clan brought a fruit tray and pasta. So far so good. Another sibling also comes through. But the one in charge of soda is 2 hours late. We end up drinking Kool Aid.  Another was going to bring a side, and also 2 hours late. Turns out these two and their families were hanging out together somewhere. We don’t even eat their side as we are all done eating by that point (canned beans, they didn’t eat them either).

So what does my sister do that is so bad? She goes to the kitchen and starts making plates for her children of my leftover steak and ham. Leaves me with very little and didn’t even ask if it was ok first. My husband is miffed. Next year I am taking my parents out to dinner for Easter. The kicker is one of her grandchildren had a birthday and she told everyone to bring presents. We had a cake my parents brought. Basically I hosted her grandchild’s birthday party and her family got free food to take home. 0425-11

I really dislike potlucks because of the two problems mentioned, i.e. guests who don’t show up in time for the meal with their food offering (or they bring little to none at all) and guests who leave taking more food than they brought.  I rarely host potlucks any more because the aggravation of worrying whether all the components of the meal will arrive is not worth it to me.

First rule of potlucks:  Bring enough for you, your family and to share with another family.

Rule Two:  Arrive in time for that food to be served.

Rule Three:  Don’t leave with someone else’s leftover food.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

karma April 27, 2011 at 5:26 pm

@Michelle P,

You wrote: “@karma, I’ve often brought drinks to potlucks and work parties. Nothing wrong with that, especially if they agreed to it, which it sounds like they did. It was not polite, and is never ok, to tell people to bring gifts to anyone’s birthday. The main point, I believe, was the fact that others did the work.”

I don’t doubt that you have indeed brought drinks for such occasions. I’m suggesting that it is not a *wise* choice to assign it to someone when you are hosting at your home. It’s a better plan to just make that a host/ess provision so you know what you have and how much.

We also don’t know that gifts were solicited. It may be that some family members asked, and the sister said, “Oh just bring it when you see us at Easter. No need to mail or make a special trip.” The OP seemed to not know that the kid was even having a birthday, so I doubt she was privy to the conversations surrounding the gifts beforehand….


Sharon April 27, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Your plan to just take your parents out for lunch next year sounds great. It will probably be cheaper and more fun. It will surely be less work and less agravation.

Best wishes!


girl in the sticks April 27, 2011 at 6:54 pm

My husband and I love giving potlucks, BBQs and just feeding people in general. We often have leftovers, and force our guests to take SOMETHING home (not really force–encourage). However, at one of our parties, a guest asked if she could take a plate to her kid (they lived a few houses away). No problem we said. But in the next hour, she sashayed back and forth to her house with no less than five plates of food, then left the party. She just used us to feed her family. Sheesh!


Phoebe161 April 27, 2011 at 7:33 pm

I guess I’ve been blessed; haven’t had a “horror story” potluck! Of course, there are also some unwritten rules at most of the potlucks I’ve attended: host provides meat & drinks (or if at work, either donations are taken for purchase of meat or the boss brings it) & plates, cups etc. Most of the peopleat these potlucks are quite generous–they bring at least an adequate amount of food, if not more–and this goes for church, work, & family (both sides). At work, we encourage the bachelors who can’t cook or students to bring pop or something that doesn’t require preparation. Many co-workers wait the day of, then make a WalMart run for items needed. Of course there are a few who don’t contribute adequately, but that’s only a few & usually there is more than plenty.


LMVattimo April 27, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Thank you, OP, for clarifying the ages of the children. The child in question was not a child, per se. He or she was an adult with a family of his/her own who brought nothing to the potluck but expected to be fed. My family has many potlucks all the time. We’re rather large (my dad is one of seven and almost all of his siblings have at least three children) and potlucks make the most sense. However, everyone brings a dish (even adult children, as they are in fact ADULTS). I’m 23, in college while working at Walmart to pay bills (i.e. poor) and I bring a dish and help out with presentation and clean up. Everyone helps out, because it’s expected. I don’t understand why people are faulting the OP for being irritated that Easter was co-opted as a birthday party for this ADULT child. I would be irritated too!


kingshearte April 28, 2011 at 6:17 am

“they said the turkey is “free” since it’s not from a store” —Another Beth

I have to admit, this made me laugh. Do they honestly think farm animals just raise (and slaughter) themselves? Perhaps you should invite them over for some experience about how “free” a home-raised turkey is.


AE April 28, 2011 at 3:50 pm

It’s the funnies thing, we had family over for a potluck on Easter and WE were the ones packing up leftovers for folks as they left so we wouldn’t end up with too much in the fridge. Of course, we only invite certain family members over…


Maitri April 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm

It boggles my mind that there are families out there where you can’t just say, “Dude/Girl, what the hell? You were supposed to be here TWO HOURS AGO and what is with one two liter of pop?!? You fail.” None of us take each other seriously and there’s no drama.

That said, I think in the OP’s case it would behoove her, if she were to host a potluck again, that when someone says “I’ll bring the pop!” to reply, “Ok please make sure to bring enough for XX number of people and have diet and non-diet, thanks!” and to send out a reminder email the day before, stating the arrival and eating times of the get-together. As a backup, maybe have some teabags and/or frozen juice on standby, just in case.


Josie James April 28, 2011 at 7:04 pm

You should come to a Cajun potluck – always wayyyyy to much food! Then we end up begging people to take home the leftovers because we have too much leftover! lol


Anonymous April 29, 2011 at 2:28 am

Count me in with the “go to a restaurant” chorus. I’d either pick that option, or do the whole meal at home myself, but make it simple, like, say, an Easter lunch (maybe right after church if you go to church) with soup and sandwiches, or even just an open house with some fruit, veggie, and cracker/pita and hummus trays. Of course, I’m atheist, so Easter isn’t a big deal to me, but I know that a lot of people use Easter (and other traditionall religious holidays) as an excuse to get together with their families, usually over a meal of some sort. It seems like the problem with the OP is, the family doesn’t get along, and, since the family doesn’t get along/doesn’t communicate well, the potluck meal got messed up in the process. If the food arrangements were simpler, then it would have been a potentially tense gathering, but with adequate food and beverages for everyone, and if the family was close, then there might not have been enough food and drink to go around, but it wouldn’t have mattered as much, because the food would have taken a back seat to the socializing. I know, because I’ve been to several “poor uni student” potlucks, where the pickings were slim, but we had a ton of fun, because we were all good friends who enjoyed each other’s company. However, since the family doesn’t get along, AND the plan was to have a potluck, which relies on some kind of communication/general consensus (which didn’t happen), the entire gathering got ruined. So, yeah, I’m not blaming the OP, but I still think that eating out, or a simpler meal at home, would be a better idea for next time. Also, I can’t help but think that the ruined potluck gathering is probably a symptom of a bigger problem.


karma April 29, 2011 at 5:43 am

Maitri, my spouse’s family was really weird about taking to task family members who didn’t do the right thing by others. One year at the appointed hour to eat, the Thanksgiving food grew cold on the table, when Uncle M called to say that they were just leaving home. That branch of the family lived over an hour away, so “just leaving” didn’t bode well. The reason: their youngest child, three, had to take a nap first. He’d “just now” woken up. Put that sleeping kid in the car, dummies. That’s what car seats are for among other things! 🙂


katie April 29, 2011 at 2:11 pm

For potlucks I generally follow and suggest these rules…

1. The hostess provides the main course, drinks, and eating utensils (forks, plates, cups; ect)
2. Eating starts at least one hour after the invited time (so if you arrive at 5, dinner will be after 6)
3. Whoever brought the dish has distribution rights over said dish after dinner (ie; she is allowed to take it home, give it to the hostess, split it up)
4. If you are late to a potluck whether or not you get food depends on if it’s a casual potluck or formal party. If it’s causal/family affair one may get the food out of the fridge/storage but is responsible for creating any additional mess. If it’s a formal occasion and the food has been taken away, well then you are SOL.

Those are just some basic rules to running smooth potlucks, I have a crazy family and it’s always worked for me.


Elizabeth Bunting April 29, 2011 at 8:58 pm

We had a potluck for our 50th wedding anniversary last year. We rented the hall, rented the china, paid for the clean up, paid for a pig roast, paid for applesauce, tablecloths and centrepieces. The guests brought food according to their surname. For example: A – D brought Appies, E – G brought scalloped potatoes, H – N brought veggies, O – Z brought dessert.

Lest anyone think we were too cheap to put it on ourselves – it coincided with the usual Spring Fling our group has every year and they did not want to do it any more, so we made this the last one.

We had a huge sit down dinner paid for by our kids for friends and relatives where nobody brought anything.


Enna May 1, 2011 at 9:47 am

I think with the nature of a potluck everyone should bring something: there are variations of a theme about the host providing corckery and cutlery and the main course. Yes I can see for pratical reasons why the host should provide corckery and cutlery etc or at least be able to borrow it from people before the event. I’m not too sure about the main course or drinks: it depends on what kind of potluck it is. For example is it a formal celebration or an informal one? So long as it is fairly distrubputed out and planned/organised well it doesn’t matter who brings what so long as they bring what they are required/requested to do.

I still think those guests who show that they are unreliable in bringing food are forgiven on the first offence and tactfully reminded at the same time. (As everyone can make mistakes) however if they do it again for a second time in a row don’t invite them to a thrid potluck. If they ask why not then simplily explain that the whole point is to bring something: it is rude not to bring something and selfish too so they cannot be accomidated.


Twik May 2, 2011 at 8:45 am

Actually, I think the letter-writer was right when she said “Silly me.” According to her, “This sister has six adult children and four grandchildren, and is notorious for showing up empty handed to all or family gatherings.” Since she knew what her sister is like, why be surprised when she did what she was “notorious” for? It’s like buying a Dalmatian, and complaining that it has spots.

Potlucks are only good if you can trust the good faith of other participants. If you can’t, you *know* you’re just setting yourself up to fail.


StaceyStacey May 4, 2011 at 9:57 am

I agree that it’s frustrating when family take advantage of your good graces. Seriously, though, how hard is it to say “oh, don’t pack those up! We are (planning to donate them to the poor, eat them tomorrow with Kate and William, give them to our beloved Fido, make soup and casseroles for a month…whatever). Your kitchen is your own! So don’t let anyone intimidate you into handing over your worldly goods (or leftovers!). That said, I always pawn off the leftovers…for weight management reasons!


MOL (meow out loud) June 21, 2011 at 12:43 am

My brother has potlucks at work. You wouldn’t believe how fast someone (me) can put together macaroni salad together when they’re half asleep. I would cook, chop, do everything but toss together and mix the night before since my brother would leave for work approx 3:15. My mom used to do this but then he was expected to take ‘his’ famous macaroni salad to a potluck the day after she came home from the hospital after having surgery. Since they thought he made it he couldn’t exactly say well my mom makes it for me. He couldn’t cook if his life depended on it and I don’t let him cook in my kitchen.

My sister on the other hand had me make a cake to take to work for her. I make a good chocolate cake from a box with cool whip it’s delicious. I thought she would take it and say she made it. Nope, I called for something and they kept telling me how good my macaroni salad was. I thought she was a dope lol.


Bela516 February 8, 2012 at 8:28 am

My family is great in this regard. I rarely have potlucks because I feel like if I am hosting, I want to host. But on the rare occasion we do this, we simply assign who is bringing what in order to have a fair distribution of burden. And I always tell people an hour early – so we can visit before hand and have cocktails. MY problem is some of my family and friends most notably, my semi-bachelor father (long story about a chronic no-show wife) and uncle always show up TOO early – like before I am even dressed or have the table set! (I don’t set it too early because my incorrigible cats invariably jump up on the clean table)> So the new rule for family (and my very best friends) is if you show up before the set time – you will be put to work!! LOL. No one seems to mind.


NostalgicGal November 18, 2012 at 7:05 am

Potlucks… an aunt of mine was seriously IN-famous for being past fashionably late and into ‘who are you kidding’ late… and expected EVERYONE to wait for her and family (at that time three small kids, the smallest was just walking)… for her to waltz in ala Drama with snare drum, trumpets, and lights, with a one quart bowl of potato salad in her hands. What she always brought.

We had a ‘both of my sides of family’ gathering; so my mother’s family AND my father’s family, coming together. On the order of about 30-35 adults and about 25 kids ranging between just walking and mid teens. AND. 1.) Said aunt and uncle and three kids lived 20 minutes from the gathering site. They were the only ones that didn’t have an hour or more to drive. 2.) We said 1 sharp. Burgers and dogs would be grilled and food set out at 1. 3.) this is many years ago as I have more gray in my hair than I want to admit, so well before cellphones. 4.) This is in a City park that was not uncentral to everyone gathering, on a Sunday, so no real ability to call about.

1 pm sharp. Of course no sign of them. Mutual vote, we would wait 20 min. JUST in case they were running late, remember the 20 min travel time for them to get there.

1:20, no sign. We sit down, we eat. Food is great and a ton of it. Nobody’s gonna starve.

Remember how many people? So we were not going to finish this meal in five min especially since there was cake, someone brought marshmellows to brown or cinderize, and there was watermelon.

2:05. We have tucked food away, everyone has scarfed and kids are ripping around spitting watermelon seeds and having ice cube flinging fights.. and IN walks TADA and flanked by her husband, her kids, and her lovely smile, holding her quart of potato salad. She looks to the left, to the right, and realizes the grills are not loaded, the food that’s left is covered or in coolers and there’s watermelon rinds ALL over the universe. The look on her face is priceless as this starts to sink in. I am just barely in school, as for age… and have face in what’s left of my watermelon slice at the one table yet. Where I can see her sashay in, and the expression.

“Aren’t you going to eat? I thought you said one…” ME, I don’t know about certain polites yet and I speak up. “At one o clock we decided to wait 20 minutes for you, because you always bring potato salad, then we sat down and ate.” Nice and LOUD and CLEAR. (Okay so I deserve to sit on a hard tuffett inside the door to E-hell even if I was too small to know better-enough)

Someone nicely dug out some of the hot leftovers and gave them a few turns on poked up coals to get them warm again, and they picked through the rest and her bowl of potato salad stayed there with the saran wrap on it. (I remember adult discussion about that’s all she ever brought and that was part of the discussion about how long should we wait since that was what she was bringing for five… and how long it took to make potato salad and by the time they arrived and the bowl wasn’t cold, (it was checked and yes even I was close enough to sneak a feel, it was WARM yet) she’d started the potatos AFTER the stated eating time)

Upshot was, she never did pull anything ‘that dramatically late’ ever again.

I have many other stories about those that brought little and expected to and sometimes managed to, such as get the entire family of 8 out of there with the big pans/bowls of leftovers and take off in their car in like under a minute, and it took forever (months if not a year or two) to get the bowls and pans BACK. Sigh. (a particular thanksgiving after the meal, each one took something, and went QUIETLY and got the ham, the turkey, dressing, gravy, sweet potatoes, the fancy snacker plate (with pickled beets and olives and such) and two whole pies… we quit holidays with that side of the family after that)


AnnaMontana January 22, 2013 at 10:09 am

We always have a ‘potluck’ Christmas Eve, between my Parents’, my Godparents’ and our very best friends. (We’re ex-army, so we have all spent a LOT of time together.) My parents have myself (23, have a house and engaged) and my 20 year old brother who lives at home. My godparents have one son (19) who is at Uni and my friends have a daughter (24, still lives at home) and a son (19 and at Uni.) Therefore, the ‘children’s’ houses are not part of this tradition as all the ‘adults’ agreed it was unfair to expect me and my fiance to host something and none of the other ‘children’. We have a system that works well for our Christmas Eve celebrations, and it has now become a tradition. Each year, the three couples rotate the ‘taks’ so each couple has either ‘starters’ ‘main’ or ‘dessert’ to host and cook. Of course all the houses are close to each other, meaning we walk from one to the other. We start at one house, where drinks and starters are served. (Usually we play a game too.) Then we walk to the next house where we have another drink, the main course and play a game. Lastly, we walk to the last house where we have drinks and dessert. Then typically fireworks and games until midnight when everyone walks home. This works super-well, we all LOVE doing it for each other (I help my mother and godmother to prep their dishes.) and it ends in a beautiful evening for everyone. So far we have been doing this since I was 10 and every year we’ve had a fab night and a wonderful celebration.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: